Both of Brandon’s major post-secondary institutions will require most staff and students to be vaccinated for the upcoming academic year, according to a pair of news releases sent out on Thursday morning.
While representatives from Brandon University and Assiniboine Community College told the Sun earlier this week that they would not be implementing any kind of vaccine policy, their respective positions have changed alongside that of other Manitoba schools.
Around the same time on Thursday, the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg, Red River College and the University College of the North all sent out similar news releases about their own vaccine mandates.
"Our college believes that requiring individuals to be vaccinated in order to be on campus could be one added layer of protection to complement other safety measures adopted throughout the pandemic," Assiniboine’s news release reads.
"Assiniboine was the first institution in Manitoba to adopt a face mask mandate and is maintaining that mandate through the fall term."
BU’s news release adopts a slightly different tone, making some concessions about when this vaccine policy will come into effect for staff and students.
"The university will not require vaccines before the start of fall term, which is just three weeks away, but vaccination as soon as possible is strongly encouraged," the statement reads.
"Through the coming year, the university will move towards being a campus that is as fully-vaccinated as possible."
However, BU officials maintain that their previously announced plan for in-person learning this fall will remain the same, where only classes that contain 25 people or less will be allowed on campus. All other classes will take place online.
In-person classes at BU this fall will also require the use of masks, physical distancing and enhanced cleaning protocols.
Both statements from BU and ACC admit that their respective vaccine policies probably won’t be applied across the board, with accommodations having to be made for those who cannot get their shots in time or at all. This includes people with certain medical conditions and international students who may not have access to vaccines in their country of origin.
Both statements were also short on specific details, with BU officials admitting they will be using the next couple weeks to find answers to questions such as: when is the most appropriate deadline to begin requiring a vaccine? Can people opt for regular testing if they prefer not to get a vaccine? What requirements are appropriate for campus visitors, contract workers and similar groups on campus?
Similarly, ACC representatives revealed that their vaccine mandate hasn’t been approved by their Board of Governors yet, with Thursday’s statement being designed to give staff and students a heads up before the fall semester begins.
Brandon University Faculty Association president Gautam Srivastava praised the BU administration for their about-face on Thursday.
After all, this decision comes after BUFA released its own statement on Monday morning, calling on the BU administration to adopt a vaccine policy to maintain the overall safety of the university community.
"Our members are quite happy to have our association take this position and for Brandon University to listen clearly to our advocacy in this instance, which will protect faculty, staff and students on campus," Srivastava said.
This update from BU and ACC comes at a time when many other high profile universities in Canada have adopted similar vaccine policies for the 2021-22 academic year.
At the beginning of the month, only a few post-secondary schools in Canada had established vaccine requirements for the upcoming fall semester, with Seneca College in Ontario being one of the most high-profile examples.
However, within the last two weeks, a number of institutions have since followed Seneca’s lead, including the University of Regina, Queen’s University, Western University, the University of Waterloo, Carleton University, the University of Ottawa and the University of Saskatchewan.
While schools like BU, ACC, U of W and U of M held out until this week, Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations president Scott Forbes credits his affiliate organizations, including BUFA, for causing this widespread change of heart through their public advocacy.
"This would not have happened if not for pressure from faculty and their representatives," he said. "And we are delighted that a strong, clear message from faculty was heard by university administrators who eventually reached the correct decision."
» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson